Two and a half years ago, a night that began with an underage student drinking at parties and bars ended in tragedy: a DWI crash that left three dead.
Chandler Kania was sentenced to a maximum of sixteen years and four months in prison for involuntary manslaughter and one count of reckless driving in October 2016. That said, the story continues to unfold as .
Settlements are still being reached among the parties involved in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Shawn Howard, the lawyer representing the victims’ families, said claims against both UNC students who hosted the pre-game party Kania attended prior to drinking at La Residence and He’s not Here had been resolved.
“Pursuant to our settlement agreements, the terms of those settlements are confidential,” Howard said. “At the conclusion of the case, we are likely to be able to indicate the total settlement and/or verdict amounts received by the families of the victims.”
Howard said the lawsuit is scheduled for trial in June 2018, and his efforts are currently focused on preparing his client and their case for trial against the remaining defendants.
“We have also settled claims with the insurers for the family of Chandler Kania and He's Not Here,” Howard said. “There has been no settlement reached with La Residence or the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.”
Aaron Bachenheimer, executive director of community partnerships at the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, said there have been multiple programs and initiatives in fraternity and sorority life to manage drinking and safety.
“In my time working with fraternity and sorority life at UNC, since the 2010-2011 academic year, we’ve had a pretty strong focus on what I call ‘risk-management and harm reduction,’ overarching health, safety and wellness education.”
He said the Office gathers as much information as possible about incidents that happen at the University or elsewhere but resists making changes to messaging and policies as a result of individual events.
Drawing upon a broader set of research helps the office to talk about benefits of reducing underage drinking in ways that reach beyond just the legal mandate, such as medical evidence that encourages students to delay drinking until later in their young adulthood.
“There’s a lot of really good reasons why we talk about the 21-year-old drinking age, and often we don’t always talk about it from a, ‘it’s the law’ standpoint,” Bachenheimer said. “A lot of the work we do, for example in our alcohol skills training program, is to talk about the research that indicates that the younger you drink, the more likely you are to have problems associated with alcohol.”
The impact on Chapel Hill
The Kania case launched conversations about curbing underage drinking in bars and preventing drunk driving.
Pantana Bob’s, a Chapel Hill bar not involved in the trial, has layers of defense against underage drinking.
Manager Corey LaPrade said the events causing the trial had little effect on their methods of preventing underage drinking at the bar, and they preferred to continue the strategies they felt had always been successful.
“We use the same thing we’ve always used, and I think it works – we use door guys. They check IDs at the door, then we check them again at the bar,” LaPrade said.
If Pantana Bob’s employees notice anyone who may be in danger of driving under the influence, they generally ask how the patron is getting home that night, calling the police if necessary. However, LaPrade said his guests mostly travel on foot, which is typical in Chapel Hill.
This informs programs like the Ladder of Risk, which teaches fraternities and sororities ways to host parties while reducing the chance of harm. There's also the alcohol skills training program, which teaches students how alcohol affects the brain and how to prevent health issues if they choose to drink, he said.
Bachenheimer said the office aims to ensure all students have thoughtful methods to avoid health risks that come with drinking, including transportation and ways to check on their friends when they go home.
“People are going to try to get into bars – that’s just a fact,” LaPrade said.
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